Released on March 23, Sex & Cigarettes is the eighth studio recording from Toni Braxton. The sultry singer’s project is full of seductive balladry about love lessons, and includes top-notch production. The eight tracks each embody the theme of anguish and provide a testament to Toni’s soulful sophistication and legendary status within the genre. It adds another smooth collection of cuts to a catalog that includes more than 40 million albums sold worldwide and classics such as “Breathe Again,” “Un-Break My Heart,” and “Just Be A Man About It.”
There are four key elements to this feature that make it as captivating as previous releases.
- The Vocals – singers, particularly in the R&B genre, often are criticized for losing their edge vocally by critics. Toni proves on this project that her voice has not lost its touch. This is especially evident on “Long As I Live,” the current single saturating Urban AC radio, and the title track. Both could have easily been included on her debut album or Secrets, but offer an inviting sound that shimmers throughout the entire Sex & Cigarettes experience to the point where they don’t sound dated.
- Songwriting – there is a sense across each of the tracks that Toni is unabashed of her experiences both in love and life. Her songwriting capabilities shine through heavily especially on the mid-tempo lament “Sorry,” which is a regretful melody about dealing the consequences of getting involved with someone with exhaustive baggage and problems. This is also the first album to feature an explicit content warning.
- Missteps – As a long-time fan of Toni’s, I was glad that she did not veer too much into electronic musical territory. The only songs that glide into this arena are “Coping” and “Missin,” which only work because of Toni’s ability to give genuine passion to the lyrics, but the beats on both feel out of place among the rest of the album. Another misstep was the release of “Deadwood,” as the album’s first single. While an alluring cut among the bunch, it did not set the tone for full force brevity that Sex & Cigarettes offers as “Long As I Live” does. As a Toni Braxton devotee, I was also surprised that there were only nine songs featured on the project, given the last album was released in 2014.
- Collaborations & Production – Toni collaborated with singer, Colbie Caillat, on “My Heart,” and it is one of the best songs among the set. Immersed in a guitar-driven backdrop, the song is very radio-friendly for the quiet storm lovers and adult contemporary charts. The production on Sex & Cigarettes is what fans have come to expect from Toni – a lush playground of sweltering and sensual cinematics underlying earnest heartbreak.
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